The Trinity – De Trinitas

De Trinitas

Copyright © 2019 by Ray B. May IV, Believe Better Ministries,
Released under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.

Note: All Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

To Download a PDF of this Article Click Here.

Introduction

The Trinity – that is the Triune1 God – is a complex subject. It is something we cannot hope to fully grasp. Our finite imperfect minds will always struggle when attempting to comprehend the eternal, infinite God. Because this subject is something we will never fully understand, it is also something we have argued over for as long as Christianity has been around. Part of these arguments, sadly, have been the result of our inability to fully articulate what we are trying to explain.

To that end, before I go any further in writing this paper – since it is on a core tenet of the Christian faith – I want to make everything abundantly clear: I am a believer in the Triune God (that is the Father, Son, and Spirit), the Trinity. I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as coequal, coeternal persons (or individuals) who are totally united, inseparable, one, God. I do not profess to understand the eternal, but rather stand on the shoulders of my fellow theologians, those who have come before me. I am not a modalist2 and as such do not follow the teachings of Sabellius, who taught, in the beginning, was the Father (Yahweh), who then became the Son (Yehoshua/Jesus) at the incarnation, who, finally, became the Holy Spirit at the ascension. I am, also, not a polytheist, or more specifically a tritheist, who believes in three Separate gods (Yahweh, Jesus, and Holy Spirit).

There is one huge problem in writing on the subject of the Trinity, which has been universally acknowledged by scholars since, about, the 18th century. This problem is in regard to our language. In writings on the Trinity, brothers and sisters, and Theologians throughout the centuries, have struggled with sounding as if they believed in one of the two heresies I listed above. As I already stated I am from neither of these camps, yet let us clear the air now, my wording in this paper may fall, at times, into one or the other. This is because of the uselessness of our finite languages to explain the eternal God. Clement of Alexandria (c. 155–220) wrote of this in his Stromata Book VI Chapter 18: “For just as far as man is inferior to God in power so much feebler is man’s speech than Him; although he does not declare God, but only speaks about God and the Divine Word. For Human speech is by nature feeble, and incapable of uttering God.”3

In many of the books and papers I have read on the subject of the Trinity, the author’s words seem to drift from one camp to another, and the author must apologize for doing so. It is in this vein I wish to start. I know in my own writing on this subject my words have strayed (and will do so in the future) into areas where I sound as if I believe in a heresy. I assure you, I do not! I believe the orthodox (or traditional) definition of God. That is: One God, three persons, the Triune God.

So, in this paper, I do not expect to be able to explain the Trinity better than the two thousand years’ worth of attempting to do so. I merely wish to move the baton forward by one generation, adding my small voice to the countless others who have already made their attempt to write – or speak – on the subject. I do sincerely hope I will enlighten someone, the way I’ve been enlightened by those who’ve gone before me.

Part 1

I must admit, the Trinity is not an easy subject to write about. My mind can barely comprehend the Trinity, let alone put it into words. I’ve read book after book and listened to sermon after sermon in order to be ready to write this paper. I read through theological writings – books so thick I had a hard time getting through them – all the way through to less technical – which were rather brief. I drew from this abundant well and you can read many of the titles if you turn to my list of sources.

I want to start out with a brief summary of the things I believe which I really have no words to explain better than their titles, or names. This is something like the “Triunity” of God. I believe God is Triune which means “three in one” but I can’t explain it beyond that word. In my study of the Trinity, I discovered scholars have even tried to coin new meanings for words to help explain what the Trinity is and how it works. You read things like “hypostatic union” or “whom dwells hypostatically with the Father.”

I will admit “hypostasis”4 and “hypostatic”5 are words I had to look up. My goal is not to be purely scholarly and write a tome of theology as some have. After looking up these words I do believe God hypostatically exists as three coequal persons indivisibly linked as the one (and only) eternal God. While, there are things in this belief which I still don’t (and no one does or will) understand6. However, I do take the leap of faith in this belief and my experiential evidence of God moves and soothes my soul.

I think the heart of the matter comes down to that: Experience. I think this is why the Triune God is never explained as such but the Doctrine of the Trinity is put forth for us to understand experientially, just as the authors of the New Testament understood this doctrine. For example, Paul gives a wonderful explanation of the Trinity in his letter to Titus:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)

Here, we see Paul telling us about the Trinity. However, he does not say “God is three coeternal, coequal persons, existing in total unity as one God.” This would have been so much easier on all of us followers as we struggle to comprehend these statements. What he does tell us is key to our own understanding of the Trinity. Paul, very clearly, gives us an experiential example of the Trinity. This is where we must start. Our experience of God shows us who He is.

One of the hardest things we have to start with is monotheism. People seem to have the hardest time understanding how God can be one, totally, yet three. One question which is brought up is the math doesn’t make sense7. We have so many verses telling us God is the one and only God. It goes without saying the Bible teaches one God. Yet, we also have the Bible teaching Jesus is God. This is again, accepted by us and our hearts through our experiences. We experience the forgiveness of our sins through the lightening of our load (as Jesus said in Matt 11:28-30). We feel the presence of God through His Spirit. These experiences are inextricable from understanding the Trinity.

However, our experiences are not the only teachings on the Trinity. God, Himself, preached about His nature and His Trinity. First, we know God’s unity. We have outright declarations of His unity: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut 6:5) Yet, we have no statement of His three-ness within the one. God says He is the only God, before whom there was no god formed, nor will there be any after Him (Isaiah 43:10).

Curiously, however, from the beginning, we have a plurality within God. He is referred to numerous times throughout the Old Testament with the plural “Elohim”8. In fact, our first introduction to God in the Old Testament in Genesis 1:1 is to a plural Elohim. The discussion of making man is also the plural Elohim. Elohim literally means “gods” in English. This passage would be more literally translated “The Gods said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26a). God is one, yet the offspring of a virgin birth shall be called Immanuel (God with us, Isaiah 7:14). This child will also be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). To cap it off, this singular God says He has been sent by the LORD with the LORD’s Spirit (Isaiah 48:16).

So, quite clearly in the Old Testament, we have a peculiar plurality within the singular – one – God. In the New Testament, this fad continued. In the Gospels, we have many things spoken about Jesus. The angel Gabriel tells Mary outright that Jesus will be known as the Son of God (Luke 1:35), and Joseph is told Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20-21). God, Himself, calls down from heaven while the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus pointing out Jesus as the Beloved Son of the Father (Matt 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). All this brings us, then, to John 1.

“Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος,” this is the opening phrase to John’s Gospel9. In English, this literally says “In [the] beginning was the word” and equates this phrase to the very first words of the Bible – to the first words of Genesis. In fact, John lifts the first two words of his statement off the page of the Septuagint10 where Genesis 1:1 starts: “Ἐν ἀρχή ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός” (literally “In [the] beginning made God”). John 1:1 doesn’t end there but fully says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

This is something new! While the Old Testament does witness to the Trinity it is definitely harder to see than in the New Testament. Here we have an explicit statement of more than one person within the one God. This is something explicit, however, rather than, merely, implied – as in the Old Testament. We know, from the Old Testament, God is beyond our understanding, even His ways are above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is not a man (1 Samuel 15:29).

This strangeness, difference of God from us, is important. It is what makes us made in the image of God rather than having a god made in our image. This “higherness” of His ways are what allow us to have God being three persons in one substance. It, also, allows us to let mystery exist within God.

Part 3

The mystery of the Trinity is something the Church has considered a mystery from the beginning. Origen wrote in De Principiis Book 1: “We go on to say that, according to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured. For whatever be the knowledge which we are able to obtain of God, either by perception or reflection, we must of necessity believe that He is by many degrees far better than what we perceive Him to be.”11 God is beyond our ability to understand!

The reason this is so important is then the math doesn’t have to work out. God being above us and incomprehensible can be three in one. This also makes the experiential evidence more important, and more trustworthy. We experience God, and therefore we know Him. Paul says in Romans “the Spirit himself, bears witness with our spirit” to us having been made children of God. And, John said in his first epistle, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in him.” So, we have the Holy Spirit (which is the anointing written about by John) being experienced through our life.

Even the testimony of the Bible is experiential in nature. I’ve already quoted Paul in his writing to Titus on our experience of the Trinity. In this passage is “God [the Father] our Savior” or is “Jesus Christ our Savior”? Well, Paul in this section says both are our savior. Another question which could be asked of this passage (and the Bible as a whole) is: “Whose grace are we receiving?” Some passages tell of the grace of God (i.e. the Father – Acts 6:8; Rom 3:23-24; Eph 2:1-10; Titus 2:11; Heb 4:16; 1Pet 4:10) while others tell of the grace of Christ (John 1:16-17; Acts 15:11; Rom 5:15; 2Cor 8:9, 13:14; Gal 1:6; 1Tim 1:14; 2Tim 2:1).

We have this amazing paradox in the Bible of the terms for God in His three persons being inextricably linked with the experience of Him. This allows the Apostle Paul, who said “there is one God, the Father… and one Lord, Jesus Christ,” “and one Spirit,” to also say, “Now the Lord is the Spirit.” This is the same Paul who in Romans says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” We experience all of God through the indwelling of His Spirit.

These experiential circumstances are highly important. It helps us to understand what is happening. We learn about God through the Son’s testimony in the Gospels and through the anointing of the Spirit upon us. It helps us understand how Paul calls Him (Jesus) “our great God and Savior” in Titus 2:1312 and “The Christ, who is God over all,” in Romans 9:513, and still say “there is one God, the Father.” This only comes from experience. This only comes from deeply understanding God is the Trinity, this comes through living out the Christian life.

This experience, also, shines forth the beautiful message of the Gospel. The message of the Gospel is: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “by works of the law no human being shall be justified in his sight”. However, God made us for love, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,” God bridged the gap no human could, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Through Jesus, God’s Son, the uncrossable was crossed so we could be with God for all eternity. We are washed “of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” when He comes and lives in us. This is the message of the Gospel.

This message only works if God is, in fact, a Trinity. Only God, Himself, could fulfill the righteous requirements of the law, “No one is good except God alone.” This means it takes the power of God to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Christ is the atoning sacrifice for all the sins of all the world: “and he did for all”; “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Christ died for our sins and rose to give us life.

Part 3

In “Part 1” we introduced two important aspects about our topic – namely our experience of God’s Triune-ness, and some Scriptural support of God being a Trinity. In “Part 2” we focused on the experiential evidence of the Trinity, and its importance. Now, I would like to return to the Scriptural support of the Trinity.

First, we must start with the Father. The Father is the first revealed and, as such, most of the references to “God” in the New Testament (Gr. Θεὸς – Theos) are to Him (this is not universal as we shall see). The Bible, on the very first page, in the very first statement, assumes God is real. In Genesis, it starts with “Bereshit bara Elohim” or in Greek “En archē epoiēsen Theos”. In English, we have it thus, “In the beginning, God created”. Now, this God in verse 1 of Genesis is the Triune God.

However, the interpretation of this God, by the people Jesus came to witness to, turned Him into merely the Father. He was alone for all eternity until he decided to create. Jesus, Himself, testified to the Father being God many times. He explicitly does so in his prayer to close out the “Upper Room Discourse”: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God.” I have yet to discover anyone who calls themselves a Christian and denies the Father is in fact God14. Those who do deny Jesus still believe in God the Father. The Jews believe Yahweh of their Scriptures (our Old Testament) is just the Father. However, we know the God of the Old Testament is the Triune God.

We have Jesus identified as God in the New Testament, though this is argued against strongly by people who do not want to agree. We will start with John 1:1-18. We have some very important things taught about Jesus in this section. We started touching on this at the end of “Part 1”. Let’s pick up the thread and go over this whole section of Scripture.

First, we have an equating statement. In the beginning – without origin – existed this “Word” with God, and it was the very God. If this was the end of the section even Jews would agree with this statement. God’s word is a picture of His character, power, and will. God’s word is who God is, because God does not, will not, and cannot lie (1Sam 15:29; Titus 1:2). However, thankfully John does not end there. “He was in the beginning with God.”

This pronoun refers us back to the previous statement to try to figure out who “He” is. We have two clues to explain to us the subject of this statement. First, in the Greek this pronoun immediately follows “the Word”. Second, we already have the only other referent from the previous statement already mentioned in this statement, namely God. So, “God was in the beginning with God” does not make any sense. So, this must be a repetitive reference, but one important point is made: The Word from v. 1 is not merely God’s voice, it is a person!

This applies an important context to verse 1. We now have two persons within the same God. This is clearly pointed out because the Word is with God and is God. This equative statement at the end of v. 1 is conveying the point of the Word and God being exactly the same in essence and substance. This equative statement following the previous statement equates the Word and the Father in substance and essence without equating the persons15. Now, the question becomes how then do we understand this Word and God?

It is two verses later in the passage which help us understand exactly who the Word is. Verse 9 says “The true light [that is the Word – see vv.4-5], which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” And, v. 14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Now, in these two verses, John doesn’t explicitly say, “And the Word is Jesus.” Sometimes, many of us in our hearts, wish God simply answered in a straight forward way, explicitly telling us in His Scriptures these deep truths. We do have it explicitly stated this Word came into the world and was clothed in flesh.

It is important, now, to see greater context. We have a context within the New Testament at large as well as an historical context. John knew the Synoptic Gospels16 were already written. So, he quotes from John the Baptist to start showing who the Word is. This Word who was with and is God is Jesus. If we then take this section as a whole, we have Jesus being presented in one way: a coeternal person of God, equal in essence and substance. Verse 3 tells us Jesus is the very God of Genesis 1, of creation. This has been put forward and shown from the Genesis passage by others: We have God (who is the Father) in v. 1, the Spirit hovering over the deep in v. 2, and God creates through His Word in vv. 3-27 (“And God said, ‘Let there be light’”).

This starting thesis (this section, John 1:1-18) shapes John’s writing and it causes him to put forward statements of Jesus which show His Deity from His own mouth. John’s whole reason for writing was to show Jesus was fully God and fully man. The biggest reason John wants to convey this to us is because he heard it from Jesus. We’re only going to take a look at a few verses, and we’re going to start with John 5.

In chapter 5, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath at the Pool of Bethesda. Finally, the Jews confront Jesus about this work on the Sabbath and Jesus responds, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This is a statement which we can only understand if we put on the mindset of first-century Jews. In the culture of Jesus’ day and area (the first-century middle-eastern Jews), a person’s adult son (this can especially be seen when we look at dignitaries) was considered equal in stature, privilege, and power with the father. So, for Jesus to be “calling God his own Father,” meant in the culture of the day, He was “making himself equal with God.”

This shows us exactly why the Jewish leaders, here, are so angered. When this is realized, it also makes sense of the leaders wanting to put Christ to death over this, and then they finally succeed in their goal. For Jesus to be the personal Son of God means He is equal with God. This is the cultural context of the Gospels. Another context is also working in the Gospels, and this is the specific Jewish one. In this context, God’s unutterable name is a synonym for the Hebrew word for “I am”17. No one could refer to themselves in certain formulaic ways or they risk referring to themselves as God.

This all plays out to its greatest extent in chapter 8. Here, we have Jesus having a debate with the Jews. This all climaxes in Jesus giving a statement which brings Exodus to mind. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’” The grammar of this statement is awkward, to say the least. He is saying before Abraham ever existed (in the past) I am (which is a present continual verb meaning, “I have always been existing”). This brings to mind Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.” ’ ” The grammar of both of those statements link them together.

This link is hefty and it is not merely Christian interpreters who see Jesus as making this parallel, for the Jews made the same connection. This is evident by this climactic statement ending the debate, and stirring up the Jews so much they immediately jump to murderous action. They were so overwhelmed by the connection between Jesus’ words and God’s revelation of His name in Exodus they attempt to stone Him.

These things affected John so much as to him understanding Isaiah’s vision of the glory of God (of the Lord in Isaiah 6:1) is a vision of Jesus. This comes from chapter 12 of John’s Gospel. The word for “Lord” in Isaiah 6:1 is not the name of God, but “Adonay”. However, the angelic beings (seraphim) call out to the Lord: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” This is an immense statement of the Bible interpreting itself. This tells us Isaiah seeing the “LORD of hosts” is Isaiah seeing Jesus. And Old Testament prophet not only saw Jesus as the Messiah, but as the very God of Israel.

Finally, I will end my proving of Jesus being fully God by pointing to Him being fully man. For this, I’m going to move over to John’s first epistle. 1 John 4:2, in telling us how to test spirits, says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” The question becomes why? Well, when John was writing people didn’t deny Jesus existed, but they didn’t believe he truly came in the flesh, but only came as spirit. So, John wants to make sure we understand that “the Word became flesh.”

This was not an exhaustive support of Jesus being fully man and fully God. We already believe the Father is God, but what about the Holy Spirit? God the Spirit is the member most often left out. Unitarian Christians believe Jesus exists – even though they remove His glory and power – but deny the Spirit. The few Binitarian sects believe in the Father and the Son but deny the Spirit. Some forms of Modalism deny the Spirit. Sadly, the very personal Spirit, who is the very revelator of God, is denied His place. We’re going to show from the Scripture quite a few things about Him.

The first thing we need to do is establish the personhood of the Spirit. This is because, those who deny the Spirit is God, deny His personhood. For this, we have to turn to the Scriptures as they are the measuring rod by which we test all things. We use the Scripture to know whether our experiences are giving us true insight or are twisting our point of view. The question is: What does the Scripture say about the Spirits personhood?

To start off, to be a person the Spirit has to have a mind, will, and emotions of His own. We can see He does in the Scripture. In Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul tells us God revealed the deep things Paul had written “through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” This points out the Spirit has a mind of His own. He is not just some force from God, but searches out the depths of God. Later, in the same letter, in speaking of the gifts of the Spirit, Paul writes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” The Spirit has a will of His own18. Finally, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in a section of teaching Paul exhorts, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

These three passages point out the Spirit has a mind, will, and emotions of His own meaning He is, in fact, a person. Now, the Holy Spirit is a person, but is He God? This is easily answered, first and foremost, He is God’s Spirit (1Cor 2:11, 3:16; 2Cor 3:3; Phil 3:3). Second, the Apostle Peter outright calls Him God in dealing with Ananias and Sapphira: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

Here, Peter says lying to the Holy Spirit is not lying to man, but to God. So, the Spirit is a person and He is God. In the Bible, we have one eternal God (Deut 6:5; Isaiah 43:10). Then we have three persons labeled as God: The Father is God (John 6:27; Rom 1:7; 1Pet 1:2); the Son is God (John 1:1, 14; Rom 9:5; Col 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 5:20); and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4; 1Cor 3:16). So, the Bible has one eternal God revealed in three coeternal persons, namely the Triune God.

Conclusion

Much, much more could be written on this topic. I would urge you to go to my list of sources and read more on the topic. I’ve merely touched on the topic, however, I do hope, even with my brief treatise, you can see the truth of the topic, as well as the importance of the subject in our experience. When we approach the message of the Gospel, if Jesus was not God, He is merely Hercules. Do you really want to put your hope in another fallen man?

I do not! God, alone, is my hope. The beauty of the Gospel is God performed what we (not a single one of us) could not. Removing this from the Bible – from the Gospel – removes the very beauty – the very love – being portrayed in the Gospel. It removes the meaning of John 3:16 (and following). If Jesus was just some herculean character, then God could have simply made another one – or made all like him without his needing to die. This is a hugely important doctrine, then, and it is this importance which caused me to write.

The reality of the Trinity is in scripture and there is so much more I could say, but I will leave you with this: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Notes:

1 Triune is a complex word which comes from the English “tri” (itself from the Latin “tres”) meaning “three” and the Latin “unus” meaning “one”. Triune then means “Three in one”.
2 Modalists follow a doctrine called “Modalism” which was first recorded as being taught by a man named Sabellius who lived sometime around the beginning of the third century A.D. Modalism can be best understood as one God in three different “modes” (or “moods”). In the past He (that is God) was the Father (or Yahweh of the OT), in the incarnation He became Jesus, and finally at His ascension He became the Holy Spirit. One God three modes.
3 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Vol. II, p. 519.
4 Hypostasis, noun, 1. one of the three real and distinct substances in the one undivided substance or essence of God. 2. a person of the Trinity. 3. the one personality of Christ in which His two natures, human and divine, are united. – via Dictionary.com
5 Hypostatic, adjective, pertaining to or constituting a distinct personal being or substance. – via Dictionary.com
6 For example: How did the Triune God send a third of Himself to earth forming a new hypostatic union in the God-man, Jesus?
7 i.e. 1+1+1≠1, that is one plus one plus one does not equal one.
8 It is interesting to note in relation to God the plural “Elohim” always has singular verbs.
9 According to the Nestle-Aland apparatus, there is not a textual variance for John 1:1.
10 The Septuagint is the pre-Christian, Jewish translation of the Old Testament out of Hebrew into Greek. It is commonly referred to as the LXX.
11 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Vol. IV, p. 243.
12 “The terms “God and Savior” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. The only issue is whether terms such as “God” and “Savior” could be considered common nouns as opposed to proper names. Sharp and others who followed (such as T. F. Middleton in his masterful The Doctrine of the Greek Article) demonstrated that a proper name in Greek was one that could not be pluralized. Since both “God” (θεός, theos) and “savior” (σωτήρ, sōtēr) were occasionally found in the plural, they did not constitute proper names, and hence, do fit Sharp’s rule. Although there have been 200 years of attempts to dislodge Sharp’s rule, all attempts have been futile. Sharp’s rule stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. For more information on Sharp’s rule see ExSyn 270-78, esp. 276. See also 2 Pet 1:1 and Jude 4.” – Translators’ Note on Titus 2:13 from the NET Bible, 1996 – 2007 by Biblical Studies Press, LLC.
13 “Or “the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever,” or “the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever!” or “the Messiah who is over all. God be blessed forever!” The translational difficulty here is not text-critical in nature, but is a problem of punctuation. Since the genre of these opening verses of Romans 9 is a lament, it is probably best to take this as an affirmation of Christ’s deity (as the text renders it). Although the other renderings are possible, to see a note of praise to God at the end of this section seems strangely out of place. But for Paul to bring his lament to a crescendo (that is to say, his kinsmen had rejected God come in the flesh), thereby deepening his anguish, is wholly appropriate. This is also supported grammatically and stylistically: The phrase ὁ ὢν (ho ōn, “the one who is”) is most naturally taken as a phrase which modifies something in the preceding context, and Paul’s doxologies are always closely tied to the preceding context. For a detailed examination of this verse, see B. M. Metzger, “The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5,” Christ and the Spirit in the New Testament, 95-112; and M. J. Harris, Jesus as God, 144-72.” – Translators’ Note on Romans 9:5 from the NET Bible, 1996 – 2007 by Biblical Studies Press, LLC.
14 Modalists do in fact believe the Father is God. In classic modalism they simply believe Jesus was the Father before His incarnation. More neo-modalism (like Oneness-Pentecostalism) also believe God (the one God) chose (or chooses) to reveal Himself as the Father in the past (or even present).
15 For a greater discussion of this see the note from the NET Bible on this part of John 1:1.
16 That is Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three are considered the Synoptics as they treat similar subject matter (or follow the same events) in the life of Jesus.
17 God’s personal name “YHVH” (יהוה) is related to the Hebrew word for “I am” (אהיה – “Ehyeh”).
18 This is one of the mysteries of the Trinity: How They have separate wills, and yet He has the one will.

Sources:

1. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith – Michael Reeves
2. The Eternal Sonship of Christ – George W. Zeller, Renald E. Showers
3. The Forgotten Trinity – James R. White
4. The Testimony of Church History Regarding the Mystery of the Triune God – Bill Freeman
5. The Ante-Nicene Fathers – Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson
6. When God Became Man – J. Vernon McGee
7. Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ – John MacArthur
8. The Word – Only Born – Firstborn – Chuck Schiedler
9. Through the Bible, Bible Commentaries – J. Vernon McGee
10. Harper’s Bible Dictionary – HarperCollins
11. The NET Bible – Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.
12. ESV Study Bible – Crossway
13. NIV Study Bible – Zondervan
14. MacArthur Study Bible – Thomas Nelson
15. Recovery Version New Testament – Living Stream Ministry

The Purpose of Creation

What is the Purpose of Creation? This is an oft-debated question by some of the most brilliant minds in Christendom throughout the ages and, before Christendom, also in Judaism for Millennia before Christ. We have received only a couple reasons for the purpose of creation. The most common answer given by scholars throughout the ages is to glorify God (or some synonymic phrase thereof). I think this particular answer is not entirely accurate. I’ve hinted before at this thought and now wish to fully put it forward.

One important fact, before heading further into this subject, is the Triune God is the only form of a monotheistic god which would create as we have seen it. A unitarian god either has no reason to create, or is simply a creator god and therefore cannot stop creating. Dr. Michael Reeves in his short book Delighting in the Trinity has the best argument for this and rather than taking up valuable space to rehash his argument I will simply direct you to his book. Suffice it to say we can take solace in the fact of creation as one proof of the Trinity, and we will return to this fact later.

To return to our main purpose in writing: Catholic and Orthodox minds have provided the main answer to this question. The Catholic Church in their catechism gives the answer to this question as “Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: ‘The world was made for the glory of God.’ ” The Orthodox Church is more complicated than the Catholic as there is not one leader, but it is a confraternity of different churches. In its American version besides calling this a mystery, it goes on to say “The first purpose of man is the glory of God.”

This has been the working premise since very early on in the history of Christendom. However, the problem is, is there is a deeper meaning. If we take a look at the whole witness of Scripture, we have something else being presented. While, yes, the creation does bring glory to God (see Gen 1:1–2:3; Ps 19:1; Is 6:3, 43:6-7 among others). However, this is not the main purpose of the creation. I would say Christendom historically and in the present age has missed the boat on the purpose of creation. Now, I have seen some try to rectify this problem by explaining the how of bringing glory to God, but even this tends to fall flat. If glory – which is defined as 1. very great praise, honor, or distinction bestowed by common consent; renown; 2. something that is a source of honor, fame, or admiration; a distinguished ornament or an object of pride; or 3. adoring praise or worshipful thanksgiving – is the purpose then we leave ourselves open to arguments which are impossible to rectify.

If we define glorifying God as the New City Catechism does in their sixth question “We glorify God by enjoying him, loving him, trusting him, and by obeying his will, commands, and law” then not only do we fall flat but we also define the word glory in a way which is outside the definition of the word itself. And the only supporting verse which is quoted is from the Old Testament law (Deut 11:1) something which we know we are unable to actually keep. However, I wish to point out to you the most important thing in this creation is the purpose of this creation. That is relationships, as far as creation is concerned this would be the all-important relationship with the Lord God. We can see the witness of this in God’s creating them in Genesis 1 and the expansion of this in Genesis 2. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God is not alone but in the perfect relationship of all eternity as the Trinity. So, God made us for a relational reason then as well. I would say God exists eternally in the Trinity, in perfect unity and eternally as love (1 John 4:8). If God exists as such then He does not need anything. He created out of a desire to spread this love further and to have others participate in this love.

This is the purpose of creation! This is the whole reason for Christ’s incarnation, to bring about this relationship. A relationship which was lost at the fall. Humankind was created to be in a full relationship with God. If we see this, it changes everything about how we look at the Scriptures. Key passages start coming forth as a clue for us. First and foremost: What are the greatest commandments? The greatest commandment was not Deuteronomy 11:1 “You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always,” which is used to support how we are to bring glory to God by the New City Catechism. But the first and greatest commandment is Deuteronomy 6:4–5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And the second is from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says the whole of the Old Testament depends on these two commandments and Paul says all of the law is summed up and fulfilled in the second one (Rom 3:9-10; Gal 5:14). There is nothing in these two commandments about obedience, or glory. It is about love.

In one step further the Apostle John – the only one to record the upper room discourse – gives us the one and only commandment Christ gave us during his earthly ministry: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This is not really anything new, however, it is a narrowing down of the second greatest commandment. We go from neighbor to specifically our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This commandment is so important John tells us “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (Stumbling here being sin.) And “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (So, our expression of the second commandment confirms the first.)

We were not put here to bring more glory to God. How much more glory can the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal God receive from the impotent, ignorant, singular, finite creation? We were created to take part in a wonderful relationship with God. To add one final point. God also wants a mature relationship. This is the purpose of our growing and maturing in this physical life. If He didn’t want such a relationship, we would merely be robots preprogrammed for whatever will God desires. This, in many ways, is the reason Believe Better Ministries was named such, and we use the phrase “Believe in Something Better.” This is better than all the religious dogma available to us. I truly do hope you can come to believe in something better, and have a wonderful, beautiful relationship with God. I’ll leave you with the words of John Piper on the purpose of creation: “God created us to know him and love him and show him.”

The Majors and the Minors

To download this article please Click Here.
Please Note: Adobe Reader is needed to read the PDF file.

The Majors and the Minors

by Ray B. May IV ~ March, 2018

It has been brought to my attention, that with some recent statements I have made, I may have made some subjects confusing, especially regarding my stance on those subjects. So, first I want to state, for the record, I whole heartedly believe every point listed out on the Believe Better Ministries’ Statement of Faith. I wrote this statement and each word describes my personal beliefs. This is where Believe Better Ministries started. I wrote a paper about feelings I had about Christendom (the special word I use to describe the religion of Christianity as it differs from the Bible and from the people who actually follow Christ).

I wrote this first paper over the course of one night and made this new blog to house it. I wrote it early, early in the morning (between midnight and three in the morning), I remember it vividly as a Thursday night/Friday morning. I had just had a long conversation with a close friend and I was angry, so, I wrote this paper out of anger (not the best frame of mind to be in when writing). This was not when Believe Better Ministries started, but it was when the seed was planted. Believe Better Ministries didn’t really start until the summer, about two years later. This is when things started to coalesce into what is now Believe Better Ministries. This is when I sat down and wrote out my beliefs in order to make sure I would not deviate from them.

I feel pretty secure in not having ever deviated from them over the last three and a half years. However, recently I have written some things which have made some of my brothers and sisters in Christ question whether I was already deviating, or was going to deviate, from them in the future. I must apologize profusely for this. I have never, I repeat never, meant to make anyone feel as if I was moving on ahead (or passed) the Christian Faith. This was not my intent, nor my goal. I was deeply shocked when I received e-mails on this subject.

I want to use this paper to explore contending for the Faith, and, so, I have to ask the question: What parts of the Christian Faith should we earnestly contend for? I had a long chat with two of the Elders of the assembly I attend, recently, and one of them gave me five points of the Christian Faith which he said (and I agree) must be agreed upon to even call one’s self a Christian. (Being nondenominational having these major doctrines to agree upon is so important for it allows us to meet together in love even if we disagree on pet doctrines or other minor points.) This made me think about the Statement of Faith I had written for Believe Better Ministries. I sat down and went through it and most of the points on Believe Better Ministries’ Statement of Faith do correspond to these five points, there are a few (exactly four) which don’t but I still believe them and they are important to me, I digress.

The five beliefs we must share in common are these: The Bible, God, Christ, the Work of Christ, and Our Common Salvation. These are the five which there must be no disagreement on. Confusion? Yes, of course, there will be confusion. Some of these points (as we will see) are pretty confusing. A lack of understanding is rather different from outright denial. (We can – for example – be confused – as I am – on how the Father and the Son are completely one, yet, the Father could turn His back on the Son, or how the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit being one, could separate the Son from themselves (themself?) in order to send the Son to Earth.)

Let’s look at each one of the points now:

1. The Bible: It all starts with the Bible, because everything we know about all the other subjects comes from the Bible. The Bible is the inspired word of God (2 Peter 1:21), which He breathed out (2 Tim 3:16). As I said, everything we know about all the other topics comes from the Bible, so if we cannot believe the Bible, what can we believe about any of the other parts of our faith?

2. God: The Bible takes for granted its readers believe in a deity. Being the Word of God, the expectation is you believe in at least a deity. But, as far as the Bible is concerned the God, who is revealed, is the uniquely one, triune God. We are told time and time, again, our God is one (Deut 4:35; Ps 86:10; 1 Cor 8:4; Gal 3:20; Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 2:15), but He is also triune, which means three in one. He, God, is made up of three distinct persons – Father, Son, and the Spirit – but He is not three gods, but one God. God being three is made clear if we read the Bible and the language it uses to refer to God. (See Matt 3:16-17, 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; Eph 2:18, 3:14-17; Titus 3:4-7; Rev 1:4-6.) This triuneness is vastly important for two reasons: It is the very thing which sets God apart from other gods, and it is the crux of the matter, for with the Triune God being in a relationship (love) with each other (Himself) for all eternity-past (before the creation) He wants more relationships and so created us (See John 17:5, 10-11, 22-26). People can believe in any god they wish to, but they cannot call him/her/it the God of the Bible, unless He is the Triune God of the Bible.

3. Christ: The Lord Jesus Christ was the very God in eternity (John 1:1; Phil 2:6) who became a man in time (John 1:9, 14; Phil 2:7-8; 1 John 4:2). Because of the two natures – God (John 1:1; Phil 2:6) and man (John 1:14; Phil 2:7; 1 John 4:2) – He is complete in His divinity and perfect in His humanity. In his humanity He was anointed by God with the Spirit (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34) to accomplish God’s purpose. Therefore, He is the Christ (from the Greek Χριστός – Christos which is the Greek translation for the Hebrew Messiah (מָשִׁ֫יחַ – Meshiach) which both mean “Anointed One”), the Anointed of God (John 20:31, 1 John 2:21-22).

He is the Son of God (Matt 3:17; John 1:14, 3:16-18; 1 John 4:10), as such He is the image of the invisible God (John 14:9; Col 1:15), the effulgence of God’s glory (John 1:14) and the very image of God’s substance (Heb 1:3), subsisting in the form of God (Phil 2:6) and was equal with God (John 5:17-18), and all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily (Col 2:9).

As the Son of God, He came in the flesh with the Father (John 6:46 – Greek παρά – para loses a lot of its meaning in translation, it means “from the very presence of” or “beside, in the presence of” or “alongside, of, with”), and in the name of the Father.

As the eternal God, He is the Creator of all things (Heb 1:2; John 1:3; Col 1:16), and as a man who came in the flesh (1 John 4:2), with physical blood, bone, and flesh, He is a creature, the first born of all creation (Col 1:15). Therefore, Jesus is both Creator and creature.

4. The Work of Christ: Christ first became a man in the incarnation (John 1:14; Phil 2:6-8), lived a genuine human life (as recorded in the Gospels), and died on the cross for our redemption (Phil 2:8; 1 Peter 2:24; Rev 5:9). Then, He rose from the dead for our regeneration (John 3:6; Rom 6:11; 2 Cor 5:17; Titus 3:5), ascended to the heavens to be Lord of all (Heb 1:3-4), and will come back (John 14:3; Rev 2:20) as the Bridegroom to the Church (2 Cor 11:2-4; Eph 5:22-33; Rev 21:2, 9-10) and the King of kings to all nations (Rev 5:9-10). No genuine Christian has any argument about these aspects of the work of Christ.

5. Our Common Salvation: A sinner must repent to God (Acts 2:38, 26:20; 1 John 1:5-10; This word repent is a very important, while misunderstood, word, most believe it means feeling sorry for what I’ve done, and so they repent many times – every time they sin – while really it is a changing of who we are to agree with God about our sin (and sin nature), and so it is really only a one-time thing) and believe in Christ (John 3:16; Acts 16:31) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43; 1 John 1:7), for redemption (Rom 3:24), for justification (John 3:18; Acts 13:39; Rom 8:1), and for regeneration (John 3:6; Rom 6:11; 2 Cor 5:17; Titus 3:5) in order to receive eternal life (John 3:36; Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7; 1 John 5:11) to become a child of God (John 1:21; 1 John 3:1-2) and a member of Christ (1 Cor 12:27). This is our salvation by God through faith (Eph 2:4-9).

Okay, all of this to say what? This is all to show what we should defend, or contend for. I wrote a commentary on the Epistle of Jude, and Jude’s whole point is for us to earnestly contend for our faith (Jude 3). These five points make up a consistent set of beliefs which all Christians – regardless of denomination, ideology, or creed – should agree upon, we could label them the Faith. These, then, are what Jude exhorts us to earnestly contend for.

The word in Jude 3 is ἐπαγωνίζομαι (epagōnízomai) and Jude’s use constitutes the only use of this compound word in all of the New Testament. Jude here is actually putting two other Greek words together: ἐπί (epi) which is a preposition meaning “on, to, against, on the basis of, at”; and ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnízomai) which is a verb meaning “to struggle, strive (as in an athletic contest or warfare), to contend with an adversary”. Those two words when put together bring the meaning “to earnestly contend for”. The editors and translators of the NET Bible have this to say on the word: “the verb ἐπαγωνίζομαι (epagōnízomai) is an intensive form of ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnízomai). As such, the notion of struggling, fighting, contending, etc. is heightened.”

A heightened contention for the faith, then, against those “who crept in secretly” to teach falsities about the faith. The New Testament, again and again, tells us to defend the faith. Peter, the Apostle on whom Jesus built His congregation (Matt 16:18), put in his first epistle: “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason concerning the hope that is in you: (1 Peter 3:15). Always be ready! Why? Because in Peter’s own words: “Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Paul tells us to take no part in the works of darkness, but instead expose and/or rebuke them (Eph 5:11). (The Greek word ἐλέγχω – elegchō means both to expose and to rebuke, it is an expose as in a courtroom exposing something as being wrong, or someone as being guilty.) Paul, in his pastoral epistles (1-2 Timothy and Titus) is very harsh on false teaching, telling Titus to make sure all Elders/Overseers/Bishops must hold firm to the faithful word which they’ve been taught so they “may be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

I think one of the strongest passages about defending the faith comes out of Paul’s strong defense of the Gospel he preached to the Galatians (of which in Galatians 1:7 he says there is not actually another Gospel besides it). Paul says here in Galatians 1:8-9 this person – whether they be Paul, himself, or an angel from heaven – let a curse be on him! He is so emphatic here he says this statement twice. How much more emphatic can Paul be? He even calls a curse upon himself if he were to come to them preaching a Gospel other than the one he already preached. Can we mince words with Paul? I don’t think so, for Paul is the man who said of a brother in Corinth: “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5, read 5:1-5 to see full context and the extent of Paul’s words). Of those who are divisive Paul said to warn them once, then twice, then have nothing more to do with them (Titus 3:10).

To Finally circle back to where I started all of this I want it known I will earnestly contend (epagōnízomai) for these five points, for the Faith. This is part of the reason for Believe Better Ministries, and why it was named such. I want to help the people of the world to Believe in Something Better. This is where this whole journey of blogging started. I have learned so much along the way, and I consider myself to still be learning. I will put forth those doctrines of the Faith and cleave to my Lord Jesus Christ.

I will try to help you believe in something better.

Sources:

  1. “Majoring on the Majors”, Zuber, John, 2018
  2. ESV Study Bible, Crossway, 2008
  3. NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 2002
  4. Recovery Version New Testament, Living Stream Ministry, 1991
  5. NET Bible®, Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 1996-2018,
  6. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Bible Hub, 2004–2018

To read the first article I wrote click here. I have since removed the article which gave me so many e-mails to wade through about whether I was changing my beliefs or not. As always if you would like to chat, feel free to e-mail me.

Episode 0 – Believe Something Better Podcast

Click Here to download this Episode of the Believe Something Better Podcast

This is a simultaneous release of this episode in audio and video. If you would like to watch this episode please feel free to click here.

This is the first episode of the Believe Something Better Podcast. It is an introduction to myself (Ray “RB” May IV) and my beliefs. It is also an introduction to the show itself. You can read the thought on relationships here.

We also look forward to hearing from you! If you would like to get in touch with us you can send us an e-mail here. Thank you for listening!

If you would like more information about the Willamette Bible Chapel click here.
More info on the Plymouth Brethren here.
More info on the Open Brethren here.

Just a side note it’s fitting this first episode is posted on my (RB’s) birthday.

The Epistle of Jude – Believe Something Better Commentary Series

Well we are excited to announce the first commentary in the Believe Something Better Commentary Series has been finished. (It is important for you to understand this is not the first volume of the series but rather the first commentary of the series.) The commentary on the Epistle of Jude is finished.

We are posting three things on this blog here today for you to see. The first is the commentary which has recently been finished. We are always open to hearing feedback on anything we post here and you can give us your feedback through e-mail or comments here on the blog. The second thing we’re posting is a set of study notes and an outline for Jude (as you will see the outline is in the commentary as well). These notes are based on the commentary and a set very similar will be made available for each book of the Bible. They are meant to be supplementary to the commentary. These study notes would allow you to have notes available while you study the Bible. The third and final thing we are posting is a complimentary copy of the Epistle of Jude (from the Breath of God Version). This will allow you to refer to this version of the Epistle as you go through the commentary or notes.

These three things are the first in many posts you will see in the future (Lord willing) giving you similar announcements. We do not plan on posting the commentary every time we finish one, but rather just giving a general announcement. We also have the books lumped together to allow for publishing.

We hope you enjoy this and we look forward to seeing feedback from you. Please not this is not the final layout for the commentaries, just an easy layout for it to be presented here on our website for you.

Jude to Come

So the Believe Something Better Commentary Series is about to have its first entry finished. The commentary on Jude is going through its final round of editing then it will be read to be unveiled as the inaugural entry in the series. We will be posting a version of it here under a creative commons license. We also plan on recording it as a free audio teaching here. We plan on putting Jude up here for you to see what things are going to look like.

As far as the rest of the series goes we will only be publishing the audio for free as well as notes and outlines. We plan on having these study aids available for free for everyone to download and use. The commentary series will be available for purchase as an ebook or hardcopy book with all proceeds going back into the ministry to help produce more content and upgrade the website.

All in all this update is here to let everyone know to keep your eyes peeled to see Jude coming out. We have a plan in place as far as getting through the rest of the Bible as well. We look forward to putting this forward soon.

Epistle to the 21st Century Church

To Download this Article Click Here

Epistle to the 21st Century Church

A letter written to the Church sent from a servant of the LORD Jesus Christ; who is His Son.

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

First let me tell you that if any one of you, my Brethren, find any fault, error or wrong thing in this letter discard it immediately for it is not of the LORD. But if you find that my writings are good and in harmony with the Word of God than heed them.

Now, Brethren, we have fallen away from the things that are of Christ and turned to the things of men. If any of you cannot quote to me John 3:16 than you must be a new believer; and for the new believer I will quote it here:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John 3:16 (KJV)

Brethren think clearly, there is no qualifier presented, not even in the verses following. Do you believe me? Look it up for yourself. The Apostle Paul knew this and wrote of it in his Epistle to the Church at Ephesus. In this letter Paul told them (and through this letter us) that they were saved by grace alone not by works of the Law (Eph 2:8–9).

Brethren, if in His Word God tells us that no works gain our salvation why have we placed ourselves under the Law again? Such things the Jews tried to do before, and the Apostles spoke very clearly about this. The leaders of the churches – the Priests, Pastors and Elders – are supposed to be knowledgeable of the Word of God, why do they then not lead you to understanding of how you have become saved?

Peter, the Apostle who led the other Apostles, spoke on this when it was brought before him. He rebuked them asking why they were placing a yoke upon the Gentiles that no Jew has ever been able to bear. He then reminded them that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we are saved (Acts 15:7–11).

This rebuke was meant for all men who placed the Law on the believer – the Christian. Brethren if my salvation rested on my own shoulders and I died tomorrow I world go to Hell because I am not worthy. I am a decrepit servant who does not even deserve to work for his Master let alone be given grace by Him, but yet I am saved by the blood of Christ. I pray that my words will be heard by you that you will no longer carry a yoke on your shoulders.

Even Paul, who could count himself perfect, did not count his works as salvation, but counted them as loss for the sake of Christ. In his Epistles to the Philippians he said that if anyone has the ability to have confidence in their flesh Paul does. Then he lists his qualifications but follows this list saying that none of them can help him because these qualities are worthless when compared to knowing Christ Jesus (Phil 3:2–8). Paul’s qualifications are impressive, even amazing, he could count himself blameless before the Law. Again I say to you he still counted these qualities as worthless!

Paul was very clear on this in his exhortations to the churches and men that he had left behind him on his missionary journeys. He preached the gospel of grace and he wanted all men to know that anyone who tried to put the Law over them should not be listened to. He went so far as to curse anyone (including himself and angels) who preached a gospel contrary to what Paul preached (Gal 1:8). Because when it comes down to the end anyone who preaches contrary to Paul is saying God’s way is not good enough. So are you willing to say that God’s plan is not good enough?

God told Paul that His grace was sufficient enough (2Cor 12:9) and if His grace was sufficient enough for Paul who was the foremost (or greatest) of sinners (1Tim 1:15) than why is His grace insufficient for you? But I do exhort you as Paul did that we should not sin against God. For just as Jesus told the Adulterous Woman “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11) we must strive to do the same and bear fruit. For what is faith? Faith is not just sitting on your hands doing nothing but faith is believing in something, and belief is a word of action. Just as James said faith without action is dead (Jas 2:26). So in our faith must we have action that goes along with it.

What is this action? It is the love that we are commanded to perform. We are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39). If you truly love other as yourself than how will you sin against God? This is the truth and heart of the Gospel: Not following the Law (for the Law itself places a curse on the person who does not complete all items in the Law – Deut 27:26; Gal 3:10), but rather following the love. Our example in this is our God, Himself. He gave Himself – all of Himself – so that we could be with Him; offering Himself as sacrifice so that He could give limitless grace to us. That is our example on how to love and how to live.

So do not forget that you are not under the Law, but also don’t forget that this does not allow you to be lawless. So I end this letter to the Body of Christ with Christ’s own words which He sent to Ephesus: “Return to your first love” (Rev 2:4-5).

Finally brothers do not forget to take care of one another in love, not just spiritually but if there is a physical need take care of this need as well. My prayers are with you always and may the Lord Jesus the Son of God and the Christ rain down his peace on your heads.

John: John the Baptist’s Final Testimony (3:22-36)

To go to the Table of Contents Click Here

Part 8: John the Baptist’s Final Testimony (3:22-36)

To Download this Article Click Here

Jesus now leaves Jerusalem and heads out into the “Judean countryside”. Here in this little prelude we see Jesus and John the Baptist being compared to each other. This isn’t the negative comparison that world does, but rather it is a comparison of just the facts. Then we come to verse twenty-four and we get a preview of things to come. It tells us that John wasn’t in jail yet.

From this we shift the scene just to John and his disciples. An argument arises between one of his disciples and the Jews about purification, or the purpose of baptism. It is right here in verse twenty-six where the comparison really starts. This comparison is started or stated in a negative way. “Everyone is going to Him instead of us.” This is almost a complaint on the part of John’s disciple. Can’t you feel the thought going through the man’s head and hear his winy tone of voice? He’s thinking to himself: “If you’re really from God as you say you are then why is everyone going to Jesus rather than coming to us?”

John jumps at this question without even flinching. He starts off telling them that anything that anyone has is directly from God. This really is a call for them to wake up and start thinking. From here John again points out that he is not the Messiah and jumps into a beautiful metaphor for his and Jesus’ ministries and how they complement each other. His metaphor of a groom and best man eloquently articulates this point.

The idea here is that a man will pick his best friend to be his best man at his wedding. This best friend is full of joy for his friend’s wedding. How could he not be? The next statement is because Jesus “has come to His wedding” the best man has to step out of the spotlight and allow the groom to take the spotlight. This is natural in its flow. Of course the best man must step out of the spotlight to allow the wedding to proceed. If the best man stole the spotlight would he really be the best man or rather an opponent?

John the Baptist moves her from his metaphor of marriage, or a wedding, onto telling what he means. John makes a statement about Jesus twice, here, but only makes the statement about himself once. “The one who come from above is above all,” he says about Jesus, but the one from the earth (John, himself) can only speak of earthly things. Then John goes on to restate what he had said about Jesus, but this time pointing toward heaven rather than just “above”. John deals with Jesus’ testimony next.

Here John echoes Jesus’ words from earlier in the chapter (verse 11). He starts moving into a grand statement about not only Jesus’ ministry, but who Jesus is, exactly. “The one who does accept His words,” this person will put all of themselves “on the line for this one thing: that God is truth, completely and totally.” This statement points out what we have to do to really say we believe in Jesus. We have to believe “that God is true.” (ESV) If you stop and truly think about this statement you see: How can it be any other way? How can you believe in something that you think is a lie?

John moves onto material that Jesus, Himself, covers later (Chapter 5). John succinctly gives his explanation of who Jesus is. This is how Chapter 3 closes. It started with grand, eloquent statements made by the Son of God and it is ended with statements of the authority of the Son. “The Father loves the son so much that He put everything under the Son’s control.” The WEB translates this verse “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”

The final remarks of John the Baptist in this chapter reflect Jesus’ own in verse 18. This allows us to see the unity across teaching. So it comes down to one question at the end of this chapter: Do you believe in the Son of God, Jesus, or not?

John Jesus Teaches Nicodemus (3:1-21)

To go to the Table of Contents Click Here

Part 7: Jesus Teaches Nicodemus (3:1-21)

To Download this Article Click Here

The very outset of this chapter we receive an introduction that is quite different from the others we have seen in John’s Gospel, so far. He introduces a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of the nation of Israel, and a member of the Sanhedrin. (The Sanhedrin was the ruling council of the Jews, who were in charge of everything from politics to religion.) In other words we could say that this was a man who knew a lot and was in charge with that knowledge.

His interview with Jesus shakes him so radically that he later defends Jesus (John 7:50) and finally helps prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). Tradition holds that he became a believer. He starts this conversation with an interesting confession, not just for himself but for all the Pharisees. “We know that You are sent by God.” This deconstructs the Pharisees’ whole stance against Him! The fun thing for me to look at is Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush but jumps right into the heart of His message, almost ignoring Nicodemus’ statement and answering the question that he is asking in his heart. This occurs in verse 3.

Nicodemus was understandably confused. I can almost see him taking a step back. The information Jesus just thrust his way is so vastly different from the rest of his knowledge as well as physically impossible. Nicodemus naturally points that out to us in verse 4. Jesus tries to move Nicodemus’ eyes from physical birth to spiritual birth showing that He is talking about spiritual rebirth rather than anything physical. Nicodemus, however, will have nothing to do with it.

With Nicodemus’ inability to understand comes a radical insight to Judaism and the belief of the Jews. The Jews did not see thing spiritually but rather physically. This comes directly out of their Holy Scriptures (the Old Testament). You can see in the way that blessings and curses are written: “Do this and you will be blessed with that; don’t do it and you will be cursed instead.” The blessing always being something physical (i.e. a long life, much wealth, much land etc.) the curses are also just as physical. It can be easy to see – at least in some cases – then why the Jews (even in many cases Jesus’ own disciples) did not understand Jesus. We automatically think of spiritual things, but the Jews? Religion was always physical to the Jews. One other place this can be seen is in their reverence for a specific location as where God is: the Temple.

In response to Nicodemus Jesus gives quite a strong rebuke: “You’re supposed to be the teacher of Israel and you don’t even understand the simple things?” This direct response is so poignant not only to this Pharisee, but any religious leaders. If Jesus were here teaching us would He say the same to us? “You’re supposed to be the teacher of My people” [the Christians] “and yet you don’t understand the simple things?” Could you answer Him?

This rebuke brings us to one of the most quoted and beautiful monologues that Jesus delivered. In my opinion it rivals the Sermon on the Mount in its content and beauty. He starts off with His iconic statement: “I tell you the truth” in other translations it is translated differently. In the WEB it is “Most certainly I tell you”; in the King James Version it is translated “Verily, Verily I say unto thee”; in both the New American Standard Bible and the ESV it is translated “Truly, Truly, I say to you”. This, in the Greek, is “Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι” which is literally “Amen, amen, I say to you”. This phrase is almost used as a punctuation to point out the reader needs to pay attention to what is about to be said.

Jesus moves onto expressing His deity (Godhood) here. How could He not be God if He is not only speaking from his own knowledge but from his own experience? He is speaking only from His own knowledge and His own experience as God the Son. Still Nicodemus (and many others) refuse to believe His words. His follow up question is blatantly challenging to the way that Jews think and their religious point of view.

From here Jesus moves into yet another expression of His deity: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven”. He is simply telling Nicodemus that no one has gone up to heaven except for a certain person who was there already. This person is? Jesus doesn’t say “Me, you ninny,” instead He gives a term that He has used to refer to himself throughout His ministry: “the Son of Man”. For Jesus this is as clear a statement of who He is as you are likely to receive. You cannot skirt around this to try and say “Jesus never said He was God” because clearly here, He is saying He comes from heaven and is the only one who can do so.

In the next two verses Jesus moves into a beautiful metaphor. Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, had the entire Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) memorized by heart. Jesus points Nicodemus’ attention back to the Torah by bringing up Moses. Moses was told by God to raise up a serpent on a pole in order to heal the Israelites after they had spoken against God and Moses. Jesus points to this as the same thing that must happen to Him (the Son of Man). This is for us to look to the cross and be saved not just from physical ailments but from eternal, spiritual death.

Jesus now says the most famous verse in the Bible. Many people, Christian or not, can recite this verse from memory. In the King James Version (KJV) it was translated this way: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The meaning of this verse, and the ones following it, resonates deeply in the hearts and minds of not only Christians but people around the world.

These verses, here, point out the eloquence of this particular response and in Jesus’ speaking in general. The next two verses I really like and they have really resonated with me. In the ESV they are translated: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18 ESV). These verses point out not just the purpose of Jesus’ Ministry but also point to the freedom from accusation of the believer.

He starts out in verse 17 pointing Nicodemus’ focus back to the Torah, again, in equating His Ministry to the blessing of Abraham in Genesis. In Genesis God tells Abraham (still Abram at this point) that through him all nations (or families) will be blessed. Jesus uses similar verbiage here to explain His own ministry. This is not just His earthly ministry, but the spiritual ministry after His death, resurrection and ascension. He moves from there to explaining the spiritual state of the believer. This is a great statement. We’re not under condemnation! The WEB translates that word (which is κρίνεται – krinetai) as judged and one thing that is just awesome is there is a period after it.

We are not condemned, Period!

Here, in the end of this section, Jesus explains what the judgment is. This judgment shows what exactly the human heart is like. “The Light came into the world, but the people wanted the darkness more than the light because the things they did were evil.” This is exactly the way that the human heart works. We’re given the most amazing opportunity and we turn it down in order to be able to just keep doing what we’re doing. We don’t want to be exposed for how bad we actually are.

For anyone who actually does come to the light. They won’t be scared because their work will clearly be seen for the work of God. That is who we want to be: Those whose work is clearly seen. That is the only place that as a believer we will feel comfortable. God knows that we will mess up, but because of His grace He loves us anyway and there is no condemnation.

That is my hope for my life. What is your?

John Jesus Cleanses the Temple (2:13-25)

To go to the Table of Contents Click Here

Part 6: Jesus Cleanses the Temple (2:13-25)

To Download this Article Click Here

We are now moving into Jesus’ first public Passover. What is the importance of the Passover? To answer this question we must go all the way back to the book of Exodus. Specifically we want to turn to Exodus chapter 12. In this chapter we have what the Passover is laid out in clear language. The Passover was when the Lord passed over Egypt killing every first born man or animal except those of the people who had put the blood of a pure lamb on their door frame. (As we will see later Christ is our Passover Lamb.) God later gave commands about this being a covenant between Israel and Himself, and the lamb was sacrificed to God to fulfill this covenant and cover the sins of the people for that year.

Passover has a special meaning for us because Jesus was the final Passover Lamb. The Passover Lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people for one year. Jesus as the Passover Lamb, gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin for all time. And so because of Jesus’ sacrifice during the judgment God will Passover our sin and read from the book of life. This is the importance of Passover to us as believers. During Passover Jesus goes to the temple and finds that the Jews have turned the sacred things into a form of business. This brings out His wrath. Why did this make Him so angry?

This made Him angry because these people were bringing sin into the Holy Temple (known as the House of the Lord). They were exchanging money (at a price) and selling animals (probably for more than they were worth). One thing to note here is that Jesus didn’t just fly off the handle, but instead sat down and methodically thought the whole thing out. We know this because in verse 15 it tells us that, “He made for Himself a whip of cords”. This is a task that He would have just done in a few moments but would take some time (maybe as much as a whole day). That means Jesus was thinking it out before hand, then, when He was done is when He “drove them all out of the Temple, along with their animals.” He throws over the tables scattering coins everywhere. Then He delivers the line that exclaims the heart of the issue: “Stop making My Father’s house a place of business!”

The next interchange is the first of many that takes place between Jesus and the Jews. The Jews (as recorded several times in the Old Testament; one specific time is Deuteronomy 9:6) were (and are) a stubborn bunch. They considered themselves right and everyone else wrong. This caused them to argue with everyone, even themselves. This is not atypical for the Jewish people.

They come to Him and demand what His authority for cleansing the temple is. Jesus’ answer is cryptic at first glance. He tells them that if they “destroy this temple,” He would rebuild it in three days. For the meaning of this statement and the following one by the author (v. 21) we must look at three passages. Let’s start systematically by looking at the Old Testament first. The first two passages are 2 Samuel 7:1-17 and its parallel passage of 1 Chronicles 17:1-15. This is where God makes His covenant with David (known as the Davidic Covenant). In these two passages (which some believe to be a Messianic Prophecy) God promises David an heir who will build God a house and whose throne would last forever. You’ll notice that the language of where this house and throne will be is non-specific.

In the time before Jesus there had already been two candidates to fill this position. These two were Solomon – who built the first temple – and Zerubbabel – who built the second temple. Both of these men were direct descendents of David in the Kingly Line. Solomon in fact was his heir who took the throne before he died. Neither of these men, however, had a throne established forever, and both of their temples were destroyed (Solomon’s Temple in 587 BC and Zerubbabel’s Temple in 70 AD). These two men had both been viewed as a completion of this promise until it was seen that they weren’t.

Now what does Jesus say about the place of worship? We find His words in chapter 4 of John. In verse 23 He tells the Samaritan Woman that a time was coming – and had come already – when people would worship God in their spirits. These words turn the believer into the house of God! This fulfills the words that God told David but in a completely different way than Solomon or any other heir of David ever could. This establishes a house for God that all human kind could worship in. So this must be what Jesus is talking about here. Verses 21 and 22 help clarify that really Jesus is saying kill me and I’ll be back in three days.

Finally at the end of this chapter we come to a conclusion about this Passover and one more point to show us Jesus’ deity. We have here a statement that points to Jesus being completely understanding of human nature. We know from other scripture that man only looks at the outward appearance but God knows the heart. In this section many see His miracles and believe in Him, but He is still keeping His own council. It says that, “He knew what was in man’s hearts and minds.” Most translations put it this way: “He knew what was in man.” This is a statement to say what I paraphrased it as. If it was the more literal meaning then it really has no meaning or purpose. But He knew what was in our hearts and minds.

He knows what is in our hearts and minds still He loved enough to come to Earth and die for us. Can you think of anyone who loves more? I can’t.